Alan Johnson served up 15 minutes of office waffle in Parliament

Alan Johnson

'Alan Johnson served up 15 minutes of office waffle', says Quentin

Alan Johnson should never have agreed to read out such a dismal parliamentary Statement as the one he delivered yesterday on the National Health Service. I do not mean the content.

I mean its language, its dead images, its awful, boxy, plonk-plink cliches. It was as badly written as a computer user's manual.

Mr Johnson has a deserved reputation as one of the Cabinet's better communicators.

What that means is that he has a twinkle in his face and an ability to talk a language roughly recognisable as English.

So why did he initially resort yesterday to the jargon, the lazy spiel, the Stephen Hawking voicebox witterings of sub-bog-standard management consultancy?

Did he not realise how desperately his Labour party needs help? Gordon Brown, our battered Prime Minister, was sitting beside him during the afternoon Statement  -  evidence of just how much health policy means to the Government.

Whereupon Mr Johnson goes and serves up 15 minutes of the most pointless pudding platitudes and office waffle.

Here are some of the words and phrases the Health Secretary used: 'empowerment' (a lot), 'transparency in decisionmaking', 'frontline clinicians', 'improved models of care', ' extensive engagement', 'greater demand driven by demographics and the transformational power of better information', ' comprehensive wellbeing services', ' quality and outcomes framework', 'national quality framework', 'care quality commission', 'unlocking the talents of the frontline'.

Taken pill by pill these horrid, wheezy metaphors might just about be gulped down. But packed into four pages of tighttyped ministerial burbling? Impossible to swallow.

Mr Johnson should immediately sack his speech writer and any other Department of Health eggheads who come up with his buzz words.

He spoke yesterday of 'the whole patient pathway' and of 'charting a path towards achievement'. It is time the word ' pathway' was banned from all companies and Government departments.

Mr Johnson also said that 'our journey of setting the frontline free from central direction will continue'.

Please, Almighty Father, let us have no more journeys, unless they involve driving a minibus full of Whitehall phrasemakers over Beachy Head.

For all his talk about 'setting the frontline free', Mr Johnson announced a new Quality Board, new medical directors and a new NHS Evidence Service.

What will these people do? I bet you your false teeth they will meddle. Mr Johnson's cheerful personality was not completely crushed by his appalling gobbledegook.

He did have the decency to say that the scheme known as the ' Clinical Dashboard' (aaaaaaargh) was not his own doing. 'I didn't invent the title  -  the clinicians did.'

But if you thought it sounded silly you could have killed it off, Secretary of State, just as you could have refused to utter the meaningless sentence which ran: 'Improving the health of individuals and families will become an increasing focus for GPs.

' Is there a single GP in the country who does not already focus on ' improving the health' of patients?

Johnson did better when he placed his text to one side and answered MPs extempore. He had a good tilt against the Conservatives by reading from the Patients' Charter which was published by the Major Government.

He also fought off the Opposition's attacks on socalled polyclinics quite well. The Prime Minister rewarded Mr Johnson with a pat on the arm before leaving the Chamber.

Mr Johnson does, undeniably, have the gift of the gab.

He carries the Labour backbenches and conveys the impression that he knows there is more to life than politics. He is a difficult man to dislike.

But until he learns to ignore the departmental drudges who serve him up with such D-grade, userunfriendly fare, until he learns to rip out the guts of a civil service speech and rewrite it so that it sounds like his own words and is vaguely understandable to the civilian ear, he will not deserve to go further.

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